Questioning “Holiness” in a Holiness church

image courtesy oneyearbibleblog.comWeek two of my second session of classes.  So far so good.  I’ve enjoyed the dialogues back and forth and have found a classmate who is quite a decent blogger!  Check out A Heart That Burns & tell Chad that Sharon sent you.  Maybe he’ll add positive comments to my class posts.  Just kidding!

One of our discussion questions this week is this:  Speculate as to how well your own local church is in harmony with the original mission of the Church of the Nazarene to proclaim entire sanctification.

Of course, this question uses specialized vocabulary – “entire sanctification” – that means something different in the Church of the Nazarene than it might mean to the average Christian from a different denominational background.  For that matter, it can mean different things even among Nazarenes these days.  In my answer I was reflecting on the way the term was used in my early adulthood, and this was part of my reply:

I teach adults in our church, and, honestly, it hasn’t been a strong emphasis for me, either. I do try to teach holiness, but I think I’ve reacted – overreacted, probably – to the emphasis on crisis I heard in the church years ago. The growth in holiness of most Nazarenes I’ve known has included a lot more process than we heard preached, and I came to see some of what we taught as unrealistic and ultimately discouraging.

It was an honest, but I thought, moderate answer.  I drew one reply from a classmate, who seems to feel I have a bit of a personal problem.

That is too bad. To preach entire sanctification is one of power and is full of the love God has for His people. I think of being entirely sanctified as a life long journey, learning and growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. It is an exciting journey. I can not imagine a life without being totally 100% given over to God. I know as you seek God, you will find this true for yourself. Be encouraged!!

I wrote a long response, and then decided not to post it because I sounded a bit techy about having my commitment to God called into question.  And maybe that was my initial reaction; I’m not exactly known for my thick skin.  Nevertheless, I think my classmate missed my point.  I’m posting my response here, instead of in the class discussion forum.  On the bumpy road to ordination, if there is anything that could potentially derail me, it is this – my stance on our church’s traditional “Holiness” teaching.

Let me clarify. I believe I am “totally given over to God”, as least as much as I am capable of knowing myself. My de-emphasis on “entire sanctification” as it was taught early in my adulthood is not a matter of my own level of consecration, but of a doctrine which I saw producing confusion and despair in the younger generations of Nazarenes. Instead of sanctification being perfection of heart motive or perfection in love, it was preached as complete sinlessness – and yet, we didn’t see it in the Christians around us. To have a pastor stand and preach sinlessness in the pulpit, while manifesting sin (ill temper, racism, gossip) out of the pulpit was confusing.

It was preached as something that was available from the moment you were saved, if you only wanted it badly enough and were willing to stay at the altar until you’d “prayed through”. And so we (I’m using “we” to represent the experience of many, many younger Nazarenes) knelt and prayed and begged and cried and surrendered everything we knew to surrender, time after time…and the process of growing in grace still seemed slow. Although some of us – myself included – could certainly see change, could point to places where God was transforming our characters – it didn’t match the change we were told to expect. And so guilt was added. We must not have wanted it enough, had faith enough, surrendered enough. It was a bit like some of the charismatic teachings on healing, actually. If you didn’t get the desired results from God, it MUST be your fault.

The crisis experience resulting in instantaneous, complete transformation was preached as an absolute necessity for salvation. “Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord,” somehow became, “You’ll never enter heaven unless you have THIS experience.” So all of our friends in other denominations who trusted in Christ as Savior, who loved and served God – they were still iffy prospects for salvation because they weren’t in “Holiness” churches. Talk about a turn off!

I don’t think that was true, scriptural holiness being preached. I don’t even think it was Wesleyan theology. It was some sort of weird folk theology that had taken hold in many Nazarene churches, and I’m happy to see it go.

If I’m right about that last bit – that the doctrine I was taught as a young woman was a distortion of Wesleyan holiness theology – I need to understand and pass on the real McCoy. I feel like I’ve made progress with that in recent years, both by studying the scriptures and by reading widely.  But what if the theology I’m rejecting really is the teaching of my church?

I realize this discussion is very “inside baseball”.  But for me, it may become incredibly important.  I will never be ordained in our denomination unless I can affirm our doctrine, including (or perhaps, especially) in the area of our distinctive emphasis:  entire sanctification.


About Sharon Autenrieth

Wife, mom to 5, homeschooler, Christian Education Director, idealist, malcontent, follower of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Bible, blogging, church, religion, theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Questioning “Holiness” in a Holiness church

  1. kevin b says:

    Hold up, Gherkin. You will never be ordained unless (your words) “I can affirm our doctrine, including (or perhaps, especially) in the area of our distinctive: entire sanctification”. Is that what the Nazarenes expect of you? Don’t you play piano and teach Sunday school? I cannot tell you the last time (unless it was out of my own mouth (and I am not tooting my own horn)) that anyone preached entire santification. And I am talking about the old guard of the church, bishops, elders, superintendents, pastors, etc. I am not sure one of my previous pastors even knew anything about it. Telling people they have to surrender all works in a song, but at the altar? Good luck. It would be easier to go back to my F.M. days when Dr. Reinhard spent the better part of a semester trying to tell me what entire santification was and was not. And then, after I thought I had the concept down, some old men on the MEG board at the F.M. came up with several different ideals than the one I had written down on my exam (or statement of faith) whatever they called it.
    To me, at least, entire santification is a personal step, not one that you, a classmate, Kevin, or anyone can explain to me. What happened to me at the altar at Nazarene Acres was a personal thing, not something that anyone can explain. I know it took, and maybe you know it did, but do my co-workers, who see me at my worse, or my wife, who sees me when I am really mad? I think only the big G and I know what I experienced.


  2. kevin b says:

    The piano and Sunday School teaching comment was sarcasm, by the way. What do you expect from an old F.M. like me?


  3. Sean Asbeck says:

    As you know, there has been a distinct shift going on in our denomination in regards to this very thing. I think you should “be encouraged” at least in knowing that there is room in the Nazarene church for a wider view of the sanctification and a greater communication given to the process. Of course you are going to find many people within the denomination that hold to necessity of a distinct crisis moment – but I am also finding more and more people who realize the existence of many of these moments – each continuing the process. Unfortunately this has created a schism of sorts within the church, and district to district I think you will find distinct differences in how this affects your preparation for ministry. I hope that your class exposes you to the diversity of thought even within our holiness denomination as far as sanctification is concerned.

    I was thinking of posting my old “Sanctification” note from facebook on my blog. It was based on a similar assignment I had while doing my coursework for NNU, Of course, the very fact that we use(d) NNU implies that we are too liberal when it comes to theology as far as Nancy Nazarenes are concerned 🙂


  4. Hollie says:

    Sometimes, in my opinion, “holiness” is nothing more than a way to make ourselves seem less like sinners. For every thing about me that is “good” or “holy” there is soo much more that is evil, sinful. Sometimes the good things that I do are nothing more than building my own “Christian” image. I, too, grew up in a holiness denomination. I remember feeling like at some point I would “arrive” as a Christian. That perfection was attainable. I also remember how frustrating it would be when I failed again…and again..and again.

    I have realized that I will never ever be the perfect Christian. I will never ever arrive. The seed of rebellion passed to me from my father, Adam, runs too deep. But…I know the one who is perfect. I know the one who is good. I put my faith in Him. He takes care of the rest. I mess up. He cleans up. I sin. He washes clean over and over and over again! I can’t do it. But He…..can and does!

    Sanctification, as the Nazarenes call it, or being baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit as the Assemblies call it can never be a one time event. It is a daily process. A choice we make to fill ourselves with Him. Trust the one that paid the price and live in obedience. There may be a moment when we feel closer, when a drastic work is done and the hand print of God leaves a visible mark and instantaneous change, but many times we are refined in a slow fire. One that slowly burns off our impurities. Changes us into Christ’s image over time. Which is better? Which is holier? My guess is neither one!


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